This post was originally written for a money-saving website. As most people want to save money on food, I thought you’d like to read it, too.
The furore over MarmiteGate* showed we’re all in the habit of buying favourite brands.
Yet by being so loyal, week in week out, we may be missing out on products which are just as good and a lot cheaper.
After the recession of 2007/2008, I took Martin Lewis’s advice on moneysavingexpert.com and systematically challenged my brand habit. Lewis recommends trading down one category. So if you usually buy a premium product, a brand or supermarket premium product such as Tesco Finest, trade down. If you normally buy own label, buy the value range. And if you notice a difference, change back up.
Here are four tips based on my experience. At best, they’ll save you money. At worst, you’ll know what else is out there and feel justified in buying your usual.
- BE HONEST
Is your buying decision affected by what you’ve seen on telly? Even if you’re savvy about advertising, you can’t help but absorb the messages. Actimel ‘gives you that Actimel feeling’. But are you clear what that Actimel feeling actually is?
Did you know that the spreads Bertolli and Olivio are made in Purfleet, Essex at the world’s largest margarine factory? That’s not what you’d expect from the UK TV commercials – youthful, olive-skinned Mediterranean septuagenarians gambolling about the olive groves, sure they’ll still be fit enough to gather in the olives at 100.
If you’re looking for a healthier lifestyle, eat olive oil or consider making your own olive oil butter spread. If you still prefer the brand, be aware that a proportion of the price goes into ‘building the brand values’ aka selling you a dream.
- CHECK THE INGREDIENTS LIST
I like Marvel milk powder but was puzzled why it cost so much – £10.88 per kilo or £5.44 for 500g. Even at discounters like Poundland, it was relatively expensive. One day I compared the ingredients listed on a packet of Sainsbury’s Basics milk powder, £1.40 for 500g, and guess what, they were identical. I went home sure that the value version wouldn’t dissolve properly but this wasn’t the case and I now buy Sainsbury’s value range instead. If you add milk powder directly to hot tea and coffee, this may not work for you.
- IGNORE THE PACKAGING
Supermarkets know many of us are too proud to put a value brand in our trolley or don’t think it will taste and perform as well. As a food journalist and regular food award judge, I do my utmost to keep an open mind and judge each and every product on its own merits, regardless of price or packaging.
Sainsbury’s Basics tortilla chips, 30p/100g, cost a third of the price of Doritos, 92.5p per 100g, and taste great dolloped with home-made chilli. I also like Sainsbury’s Basics peanuts, 60p for 200g compared with KP, £1.50-£2/200g. Sainsbury’s Basics Oven Chips – 65p for 900g (compared with McCain at £1.75 for 907g, were another great find. They look like home-made chips and scored 4.7 out of five stars on Sainsbury’s website. I recommend Sainsbury’s Basics teabags to everyone just to surprise them. They cost just 1p a teabag (40p for a pack of 40). They are not particularly strong but at this price, you can use two. They are Fairtrade, too.
Any value range of flour will be fine if you sieve it and provided it is fresh.
4. DON’T ASK THE FAMILY’S PERMISSION
Did you watch BBC2’s Eat Well for Less? Many participants couldn’t tell when their favourite brand of brown sauce, white wine or cola was swapped for something cheaper. Sometimes they imagined a product had been swapped that hadn’t. Can your partner tell if he’s eating HP (43.5p per 100g) or Sainsbury’s Basics brown sauce (5.6p per 100g) in his bacon butty? Perception counts for a lot and that’s a big price difference.
A certain household name of baked beans is very successful despite being twice as expensive as own brand – about 75p per can compared with 35p a can for an own label I rate – Waitrose Essential Baked Beans. Value beans may be all sauce but tasting my way through own-label versions, I found many acceptable substitutes for the brand leader. If you don’t like the first you try, keep trying. If all else fails, add a dash of Worcester sauce.
If your small children prefer a certain cereal because it comes in a colourful packet, one trick is to keep the original packet and simply swap the contents. If they like their yoghurts in brightly-coloured mini-pots, buy a large pot of own label and secretly decant into the washed pots. If teenagers catch you out, tell them you’ll spend the money you save on brands you don’t want to swap – like Marmite.
By the way, when I raised the topic of acceptable own-label brands on a popular money-saving forum, the consensus was that Asda’s yeast extract is pretty good. I’ll keep you posted.
*Marmitegate: Unilever and Tesco fell out over the price of Britain’s favourite yeast spread.
What brands have you swapped and how did you get on? Have you found a good swap for Marmite?